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Syllabus of the Month (January)

January 16, 2019 |  4 min read

We received this 1996 Wesleyan University syllabus as a remembrance of the instructor by a former student. It’s January’s syllabus of the month.

Fall 1996
Col/Hum 104

Teachers and Their Teachings: From Socrates to Foucault

Howard Bernstein
X 2323 Butterfield C313, Office hours, T, Th 4-5 and by Appt

General description: This course is about teachers and students, their relationships, and some powerful pedagogical ideas; it is also about maturation and longing, power and subordination, deception and self-deception, transference and counter-transference. We will be asking questions about what it means to “educate,” to take responsibility for the shaping of another soul, to transmit culture, to confront and to provoke, and perhaps, also, to insinuate, manipulate, and judge. What is it that students alternatively crave and fear in the educative process? Why do teachers presume to teach when the opportunities to do otherwise are often more glitteringly attractive? Our task is to examine different, and sometimes discordant, models of teaching and learning from classical antiquity virtually to the present. As little as possible will be presupposed or assumed to be self-evident, including the almost sacrosanct notion that “education” (liberal or illiberal) is a good thing for which there is some sort of intrinsic “need.”

Major readings in order of appearance (mostly):

David Mamet, Oleanna

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

Plato, the Republic, Apology

Selections from the Synoptic Gospels, and the Pauline Epistles.

Letters of Abelard and Heloise

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish

John Holt, Freedom and Beyond

(Note: there will also be short supplementary readings bound together in a packet.)

Course Calendar

5 September: Introductions and housekeeping. What does a “teacher ” do?

10 Sept: READ: David Mamet, Oleanna.

12, 17 Sept: READ: Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind pp. 19-23, 25- 43, 62-7, 243-5, 264(top)-284, 380-2. (Here we are especially interested in Bloom’s evocation of the Socratic image in the cause of educational traditionalism. Bloom can be infuriating, but that may well be the point, so be patient).

19, 24, 26 Sept: READ: Plato, Republic, Books III, IV, VI , VII, IX. (Note: Bk VII contains the famous “Simile of the Cave” and Plato/Socrates’s vivid representation of the educative process as the “turning around” of the soul.

1 Oct: READ: Plato, Apology (The Last Days of Socrates) in Laser Packet of course readings.

8 Oct: READ: Biblical Selections in course reader. Read these in order beginning with the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. (Our special interest here is in Jesus as charismatic teacher and also, inevitably, in the message).

Don’t forget the Pheme Perkins stuff in Read as well.

10 Oct: READ: Letters of Abelard and Heloise, pp. 9-106.

15 Oct: READ; Letters, pp. 109-179.

17, 22 Oct: READ: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, Book I, II

_22   _October                Mid-Term Due In Class

29 Oct., 5 Nov: READ Rousseau, Bk III, IV   (You may omit pp. 266-313 which happens to be the celebrated “Confession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar”)

7, 12 Nov:  READ: Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 3-72, 135-194. There is also introductory material in the Sir Speedy packet under the heading The Foucault Reader. (Note: You may well be wondering at the outset what all this stuff on torture and punishment has to do with teaching and education. Believe me, the connection will clarify itself in time).

14, 19, 21 Nov: READ: Foucault, pp. 195-end, and then, for contrast, Bloom, pp. 47-61, 68-137 , 313-356.

26 Nov. 3 December: READ: Holt, Freedom and Beyond.

5 Dec: David Mamet’s Movie version of Oleanna

10 Dec: Review and retrospective.


12 DECEMBER Housekeeping : There are two formal papers required for this course, one at mid­ term and the other as a final project. These will be approximately 6-8 typed pages in length. Students are also required to keep and submit a weekly journal about which I will have more to say in class. Participation in a discussion course such as this is also important. From to time, there will be informal lectures, but without any set pattern, and there will always be occasion for free for all question and answer sessions